Skip to main content

Full text of "Artificial propagation of sturgeon"

See other formats



\BRARV O^ ""^.'vv-VVAlf ^^^'^^ 



HolUnger Corp. 
pH 8.5 



HUGH M. SMITH, Commissioner 




Asjisiant in Charge Division of Fish Culture 
U. S. Bureau of Fisheries 




Formerly Chief Specialist in Fish Culture 
Russian Department of Agriculture 


OF Fisheries for 1919 

Bureau of Fisheries Document No. 880 


Sold only by the SuiKTintcndcut of Documents, Government Printing OfEie 

Washington, T). C. 






2i 1920 



By Glkn ('. Leach, 
Assistant in Charge Division of Fish Culture, U. S. Bureau of Fisheries. 

A number of attempts have been made in the United States at 
various times to propag:ate the sturo;eon by the artificial manipuhition 
of the I'fr^s, but in every instance they have been rendered practically 
null by certain unusually persistent difficulties. An account of the 
efforts may be of interest and value, particularly in view of the fact, 
as appears from the accompauyino; ])uper of Prof. N. A. Borodin, 
formerly connected with tlie Kussian department of agriculture, that 
most of these obstacles were overcome in the course of some experi- 
mental work performed under his direction as chief specialist in 
fish culture in that department. 

The first attempt at sturgeon propagation by a representative of 
the Ignited States Government was in 1888 at Delaware City, Del., 
In the course of an investigation of the sturgeon fishery by Dr. John 
A. Ryder (Bulletin, U. S. Fish Commission, 1888), but experiments 
along that line had been conducted by Seth Green at Xew Hamburg, 
N. "i ., as early as 1875, and were described by him in his book en- 
titled " Fish Hatching and Fish Catching," published at Rochester in 

The eggs for the experiment at Delaware City were obtained from 
fish landed for the market. A number of such fish were examined, 
but of the various lots of eggs secured only one suiall lot was suc- 
cessfully hatched. In this iustance they were taken by opening the 
female fish, and after fertilization had been accomplished by the 
application of milt secured in the customary uianner, the eggs were 
spread in a single layer over the cheesecloth bottouis of shallow boxes 
and anchored in a small sluiceway where there was a constant current 
of water. 

The same drawbacks — viz; difficulty in finding ripe eggs and milt 
at the same time, iuiperfect aeration of the eggs during the incuba- 
tion period, and the unusual tendency of the eggs to develop fungus — 
were again encountered in the course of a second attempt to propa- 
gate sturgeon at Delaware City by Dr. Bashford Dean in 1893. The 
work of that year disclosed the feasil)ility of using as a fertilizing 
medium milt secured by the removal of testes from male fish which 

144957°— 20 3 


were not sufficiently matured to void the secretion by the applica- 
tion of external pressure. The milt was separated from the cut 
testes by straining through a coarse cloth and proved just as effec- 
tive as that taken from live fish, even after being held for several 
minutes in the rubber-bulb container. In an effort to overcome 
past troubles, the style of hatching apparatus was changed. The 
eggs were spread evenly under water on shallow trays in boxes 
whose sides and bottoms were covered with metal gauze. The ne- 
cessity for quick handling soon became apparent, as the viscid nature 
of the eggs causes them to cling so firmly to any surface with which 
they come in contact that they are invariably injured in the attempt 
to loosen them, and it wias found that if not placed on the trays 
within 10 or 15 minutes after being fertilized they would form into 
a gluelike mass, which speedily became compact and hard. After 
allowing sufficient time for the eggs to become firmly attached, the 
trays containing them were fitted into the boxes and anchored in 
various places in the river bed. 

By the end of the second day thereafter the eggs in the boxes, 
which had been moored in marginal waters having a sluggish cur- 
rent and carrying much silt, were found to be entirely enveloped 
in fungus and dead. Those placed where the water current was 
strong and comparatively free from sediment had sustained a loss 
of 60 per cent by the close of the fifth day from the same cause, 
while those which had been installed in a strong current in salt 
water showed practically no fungoid growth and were hatched in 
good condition. 

In the spring of 1890 Frank N. Clark, superintendent of the 
North ville (Mich.) station, made preparations for the collection of 
sturgeon eggs at Fox Island, Mich., and under his direction 142 
female and 32 male fish were examined between May 26 and June 14. 
Examination showed that 23 of the females had already spawned, 
98 were very immature, the eggs in 6 were nearly ripe, and 5 were in 
spawning condition. Of the males 21 were hard, 2 almost mature, 
and 9 entirely so. In all, 20^00 eggs were secured and fertilized 
by cutting open and squeezing the milt sacs after moistening them 
with water. Much difficulty was experienced from adhesion, three 
hours of constant stirring being required to break up and separate 
the bunches of eggs. Ninety-five per cent of them were developed 
to the eyed stage, but shortly afterwards a growth of fungus began 
spreading in the floating boxes in which they were being incubated, 
and, as a result, very few of the eggs were hatched. Had it been 
possible to incubate them in whitefish jars it is estimated that at 
least 85 per cent would have been saved. 

In the colirse of experimental work conducted in 1901 on the Mis- 
sisquoi and Lamoille Rivers, tributary to Lake Champlain, efforts 
were made to hold green sturgeon in artificial inclosures for ripening. 
These' efforts proved utterly futile, as in every instance the eggs 
caked together in a hard mass and development was arrested. Not- , 
withstanding the great difficulty experienced in securing ripe eggs 
and milt together, 1,500,000 eggs were taken and fertilized, and 
their viscosity was effectively overcome by the method that is em- 
ployed for the separation of pike-perch eggs. They were then suc- 
cessfully hatched in McDonald jars, the incubation period being 


about six days in a water temperature of 05° F. The fish from which 
they were secured were taken especially for the work, and their vio- 
lent struggles when cnuglit frequently resulted in the loss of many 
of their eggs. Such losses were unavoidable, as it was possible to 
distinguish a ripe female only when the eggs ran from it after it was 
taken from the water. 

In 1911 experimental sturgeon propagation was undertaken in 
Minnesota in the Lake of the Woods region. In advance of the 
season's run of fish an iuclosure laige enough to hold ;iO adult stur- 
g:eon was constructed in Rainy River, and a hatching apparatus of 
sufficient capacity to acconnnodate 3.000.000 eggs and fry was set 
up in a convenient building. During the spring IG sturgeon were 
captured in a pound net and transferred to the pen. Though held 
for several months under apparentl;^^ favorable conditions, they 
failed to mature, and in the following October they were released 
without having ])roduced any eggs. Another trial was made in the 
following year with the same results. 

From the observations made it was concluded that sturgeon do not 
spawn until the water has attained a temperature of 60° F. ; that 
the eggs do not ripen in fish held in confinement; and that unless? 
nearly ripe males are available when the eggs are taken no results 
can be expected. The spawning season at the various grounds has 
always been short, seldom exceeding three or four days. It is be- 
lieved that jars similar to those used in the propagation of white- 
fish and pike perch are the most suitable form of equipment for the 
development of sturgeon eggs. 


By Nicolas A. Borodin, 
Formerly Chief Specialist in Fish Culture, Russian Department of Agriculture, 

Every fish-cnlturist knows how difficult it has been to secure any 
genuine success in the artificial propagation of any species of stur- 
geon of the genus Acipenser. There must be acknowledged almost 
coijiplete failure in both America and Europe as far as practical re- 
sults go. One drawback has been the difficulty of keeping sturgeon 
eggs alive and sound, owing to their liability to be attacked and 
killed by Saprolegnia and other kinds of fungus. Yet another and 
very serious matter has been the scarcity of sturgeon in the rivers 
and lakes; in fact, these fish in many waters have become practically 
exterminated, and there has been no possibility of securing ripe eggs. 

TMiile America and western Europe have lost most of their stur- 
geon supplies, Russia still remains rich in sturgeons, especially the 
rivers emptying into the Caspian Sea — the Volga, the Kura, and the 
Ural. Even in these waters, however, there has occurred positive 
diminution in the number of sturgeon, and it is the general belief 
that, in order to prevent the entire extermination of these fish, it is 
quite necessary to resort to artificial propagation on a large scale. 

Just prior to the outbreak of the war the central administration 
of the fisheries in Russia received a special appropriation for stur- 
geon propagation. Three of the commercial species were selected for 
attention, namely, Acipenser ruthenus, a small fish living in the Volga ; 
and A. guldensfadti, a Russian sturgeon and A. stellatus, or starry 
sturgeon, both living in the Caspian Sea and ascending the Volga, 
Kura, and Ural Rivers in spring. Temporary stations for the propa- 
gation of A. ruthe7ms were established and operated in the Volga in 

1913, 1914, and 1915; one station for the propagation of A. gulden- 
stadfi was erected on the Ural in 1915, and another on the Kura in 

1914, for handling both the starry and the Russian sturgeons. 
There are not at hand the exact data on the work accomplished as 

regards the number of eggs hatched and fry planted, but the figures 
for A. ruthenus run into tens of thousands and for A. steJlatus and A. 
gulderistadM into several hundreds of thousands. Most of the fry 
Avere planted several days after hatching, but a considerable number 
of fry of the Russian sturgeon were reared for several months, and 
some specimens were carried in an aquarium for five or six months, 
until they became too large for their quarters. 

There have been some interesting developments in sturgeon propa- 
gation in Russia in the past few years, and I will try to describe the 
methods employed. 


Two of tlie most important tlpcluctions from the investigations 
made during thei experimental work are that sturgeon eggs l^ecome 
ripe and suitable for impregnation only when the male and female 
fish are kept together in the same })ond or reservoir and that the 
si)awning act takes place probably only at night. These two observa- 
tions explain why it has always been very difficult to get ripe eggs 
from sturgeons caught during daytime or kept in ponds (yr inclosures 
with the male and female lish in separate compartments. 

In our experiments, specimens of .1. rufhe/n/.s have been held in 
large ponds, and their eggs have become ripe. Russian stiirgeon have 
been retained in a reservoir about 32 feet long, 11 feet wide, and 6 
feet deep, supplied with a current of water pumped directly from 
the Ural River. One night these fish spawned, and two days later 
there were found in the mud at the bottom of the pond thousands of 
eggs. Some of these fish hatched into healthy fry, but, as is always 
the case under natural conditions, most of them had not been fer- 
tilized, and therefore they perished. 

AVith regard to artificial propagation of sturgeon, as elaborated 
])y Russian fish-culturists in the latest work, the methods have been 
as follows: As the eggs flow from the female sturgeon they have a 
tendency to become united into a glutinous mass, which must at 
once be prevented. We received good results by stripping the eggs 
into a wire screen, washing them thoroughly with river water, and 
then putting them in a tin pan and fertilizing them with milt diluted 
with water. Several minutes later, before the eggs had become 
sticlry. we again washed them thoroughly with river water, which at 
this time in the Ural and Kura Rivers is very turl^id and of a yellow 
color, because of the enormous quantity of clay and sand in suspen- 
sion. By such use of muddy river water analogous to the employ- 
ment of swamp muck or of starch for overcoming the adhesiveness 
of pike-perch eggs in the United States, we counteracted the sticki- 
ness of the sturgeon eggs, which thereafter lose that quality and 
become easy to handle in any fish-hatching apparatus. We obtained 
quite good results in using two very different kinds of apparatus, 
namely, the Williamson trough and the Chase jar; but in l)oth cases 
we preferred to employ not running water, which is always a little 
nuiddy, but filtered water without circulation and with constant 

After three or four days of development the eggs hatched, and 
thousands of fry were obtained. For the first four or five days the 
young do not require any external food, having a sufficient quantity 
of nourishment in their yolk sac; but after that period we introduced 
into the troughs and jars living food consisting of the smallest 
fresh-water crustaceans (Daphnia, Bosmina, etc.) collected in small, 
warm watere with fine-meshed nets. The fiT soon begin to search 
for these crustaceans. When they become larger and accustomed 
to take food, we begin to feed with chopped earthworms, of which 
3'oung stuigeon are veiT fond. Fed in this way sturgeon grow very 
rapidly, attaining during the first month a lengtli of about l\ inches 
and during five months 10 to 11 inches. Fry of two to three months 
have already begun to closely resemble the adults and are very pretty 



002 865 882 5